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Star Wars: X-Wing - Collector's Edition (PC, 1994)

Updated: Mar 31, 2020


It's worth remembering that when X-Wing was first released in 1993, Return of the Jedi was barely a decade old and we were still four years away from the movie trilogy receiving its unnecessary CGI makeover. As for the thought of there being any Star Wars prequels, the idea was as fanciful as the notion that they'd be abominable. Unchallenged by any other space-faring franchise (save perhaps for a resurgent Star Trek) and undiluted by spin-offs and sequels, Star Wars at the inception of the World Wide Web remained the ultimate sci-fi power in the universe.

More pertinently, known for its military simulations and comedy adventures, we'd yet to witness the full capabilities of LucasArts as a Star Wars game publishing empire; the IP having only just recently been returned to its rightful home. Needless to say, X-Wing was an important release: for LucasArts because it helped put Star Wars games front and centre for the next decade, while for space gamers X-Wing wasn't simply seen as another great combat game - it was the first to fully deliver on an entire generation's childhood fantasies.

Part of the reason why X-Wing worked so well - and mostly still does, I hasten to add - is because it manages to heavily reference the movie on which it's based while taking in the wider conflict engulfing its galaxy. As epic as the movies are, the Rebellion has never really come across as a very capable military machine (least of all in the most recent trilogy). But in X-Wing it often feels like you really are at the centre of a full-blown galactic civil war, rather than shadowing a plucky resistance movement forever flying by the seat of its pants.

That said, despite the iconic machines and weapons at your disposal, X-Wing's lengthy campaign is pretty basic by modern standards. For each of your 38 missions across three Tours of Duty (not including the Historical and expansion pack missions), you are put before a barely audible Admiral Ackbar, who delivers your objectives before each sortie: to launch various raids on enemy convoys, or to provide protection and support whilst others launch theirs. Then, when the objectives are met, to quickly retreat before being overrun by Imperial reinforcements.

Exacerbating the game's lack of mission variety is the inability to swap out weapons, modules or other equipment, but what really dates the game are a couple of punitive mechanics that combine to pile a whole heap of frustration on the player. One is that the mission objectives don't leave much room for picking targets on a whim, with certain types of vessel needing to be eliminated in roughly the right order and within a certain time frame. Another is that you don't get much feedback about how well you're doing. It's very easy to miss the text that says you've completed or failed a mission, which can cause you to prolong pointless battles. Finally, when you do fail a mission, you quickly realise that there are no checkpoints and you have to start the mission again, which can be rather demoralising after everything else you've had to put up with.

On the other hand, the accomplishment that comes from surviving a run of tense missions is appreciable, since there is a level of skill, timing and luck required to work your way through them. Knowing when to strengthen fore or aft shields, or to divert power to engines or weapons in order to close the distance on a target or take it out quickly, takes a while to learn, as the power transferal process is gradual rather than immediate (unlike in Elite Dangerous). There's also the fact that you have no targeting aids to help you - no gimballed weapons, no shot-leading or trailing reticles, not even any targeting brackets (unless you go for the 1998 edition), which means you have to line up your shots the old fashioned way - an infuriating prospect early on given how easily TIE fighters can outmanoeuvre you.

What always gets you on side, of course, is the soundtrack, which offers the most incessantly jaunty rendition of the John Williams movie score you will ever hear. In the original X-Wing release and the superior 1994 CD-ROM Collector's Edition, the synthesized soundtrack is fully dynamic; conducted largely by your on-screen antics and which syncopates neatly with the ebb and flow of the game. All this only enhances the visuals, which remain smooth and identifiable in all their chunky glory and, as part of the enduring vogue for 90s visuals, allow the game to stand up straight without embarrassing itself next to any younger games inspired by the same era. The cockpits, in particular, are pleasing; being both recognisable and functional, even if they aren't entirely authentic to the movie-grade source material.

Firing up X-Wing today, eight movies and countless Star Wars games later, it's striking how quickly and easily the game pulls you back to a more civilised age. Nostalgia, of course, is a powerful force in that regard, but there's more to it than enjoying an inconsequential blast of unaccelerated 320x200 graphics, or the synthesised strains of its iconic soundtrack piped through an emulated SoundBlaster 16. As well as representing a time when Star Wars was seemingly unburdened by Midichlorians and rampant MacGuffinism, X-Wing asserts itself to be rather more than the clumsy blaster it's sometimes made out to be. It may not be as elegant or as evolved as its dark side sequel (I'll find that out for myself soon enough), but being the first in a saga it is no less essential. It takes more than a little determination to see it through and might require some cheating to overcome its most difficult missions, but X-Wing remains, dare I say it, most impressive, even after all these years. Mostly.

Before wrapping things up, a few words are perhaps necessary regarding the three different versions of X-Wing you receive when you purchase the game through GOG or Steam: The 1993 version is the original floppy disk release, with baseline quality audio and untextured graphics. The 1994 CD-ROM Collectors' Edition utilises many of the improvements made via the release of TIE Fighter, with textured graphics and an improved MIDI soundtrack. Finally, there is the 1998 Collector Series Edition (also referred to as the Special Edition on Steam and GOG), which is built atop the X-Wing vs TIE Fighter engine - the third game in the X-Wing series.

Graphically, X-Wing 98 is light years ahead of previous versions, with higher detail cockpits and silky smooth 3D acceleration. This is offset by the cut scenes being scaled up and smoothed over, which hasn't done them any favours. Even worse, many of the transitions have been cut, such as the iconic launch and landing sequences. Finally, there are the redrawn concourse and room screens, which aren't necessarily worse than the originals, but do detract a little from the nostalgia.

Some tinkering was necessary to activate hardware acceleration (which seemed to have a knock-on effect on the controls and the music), but problems were easy enough to diagnose and correct. The biggest issue most have with the 1998 release is the soundtrack, for which the dynamic MIDI music was stripped out in favour of looped tracks lifted straight from the movies. Close your eyes and its better on the ear, certainly, but it quickly repeats and only lines up with action by accident rather than design

Since I wasn't particularly attached to any single version of X-Wing, I intended to back the most recent in the hope of enjoying the vastly more detailed graphics. However, I much preferred to play the 1994 release, which as well as being more authentic, feels more of a complete game rather than a partial remaster. Until there is one that is full and complete, you may wish to begin the X-Wing saga there.


SUMMARY: Preceding and then simultaneous to the events of #StarWars: A New Hope, #XWing is a #singleplayer #action-orientated space #shipcombat #simulation developed by the future #TotallyGames and first published by #LucasArts in 1993. The game, the first of the #XWingseries, features a number of #campaign #missions - Tours of Duty - set in #deepspace (a long time ago and far, far away). For a game that's more than 25 years old, X-Wing looks and plays well, and comes as part of a generous package that includes three versions of the game. However, there is much frustration to be found across a number of missions and the narrow design and non-existent customisation has not aged as well as the presentation. Despite the #3stars, X-Wing remains a classic of the highest order!

PLAYED: #PC CD-ROM Collectors' Edition, 1994 (originally #released1993)

LINKS: Mobygames profile, Steam, GOG



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